I will always remember – very fondly – the first time I ever set foot on the property at 711 Wage Drive Southwest in Leesburg, Virginia. It was a warm, sunny July morning in 1997, and I’d driven all the way from Minnesota – stopping along the way only to get my used car fixed and to take a couple of cat naps. I left behind pretty much everyone and everything I ever knew or did, and looked forward to a completely new life in broadcasting in Northern Virginia. As I pulled into the little parking lot at the end of Wage Drive, the image of the one-story, rambler-style building – sheltered under the huge evergreen on the east side, dogwoods out front and gone-to-seed apple trees out in the yard – forever-more created this fantasy for me of the old-time radio station – something out of my hometown in southern Minnesota – yet having the flavor of Mayberry – complete with Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Fife.
My activities – based out of this little brick building within earshot of the football field at Loudoun County High School – put me into contact with amazing individuals at every turn – exceptional people who made deep impressions – whose spirits I hope to carry to the end of my days. I had the great fortune – because of my opportunity as the last News Director at Wage Radio (1997-2007) to at least feel like I knew and served each individual in Loudoun County: The 10’s of thousands of school kids enrolled in public education (not to mention the teachers, administrators and School Board), County employees – from the event organizers to members of the Loudoun Supervisors – all the Mayors in each of our incorporated Towns – as well as their Councils, leaders in business and technology, agriculture – and the growing army of personnel involved in local public safety; those were the larger groups. Others were unique individuals – with no peer in their community – and sadly – they are gone – at least in the physical sense: people like Colonel Michael Grenata (Veteran of World War I), B Powell Harrison (a true Virginia Gentleman who gave the term ‘preservationist’ a great deal of credibility), AV Symington (former part-owner of Wage and benefactor of Temple Hall Farm), and Frank Raflo (an irascible storyteller and local politician).
So now, when I walk the grounds of this little brick building in southwest Leesburg, I hear the voices of those with whom I formed wonderful relationships, and I feel their spirits with every step I take; knowing them has made me a much stronger and resilient person than I was upon arriving here two decades ago; sharing experiences with outstanding personalities changed me in other ways as well: I gained a deeper sense of empathy for others (and their passions – be it love, fear or hatred), and the lesson of the importance of service to one’s community left a stamp on me I’ll carry for the rest of my days. I was able to lead a local theatre company for a span of 10 years (pretty much the same decade as my tenure at Wage) not so much due to my talent in theatre itself, but from many of the school-of-hard-knocks educational experiences I garnered as a very eager news director. Everyone I met taught me, “This is what life can be like!” for better, or for worse.
And today, as I dream (almost nightly) of my former days in local broadcasting, sometimes it’s just the little things that stick out. I tried my best to quickly learn all the important names and faces in Loudoun County – but we all make mistakes; in one of my first stories on the County Board, I got former Supervisor Chairman Scott York’s name wrong (I think I may have called him Dave) and he pointed it out to me at the next meeting – in private – and he simply laughed it off and let it go at that. I never forgot that – and I never got his name wrong again. On the other hand, I could be sitting down for an interview with (former) Congressman Frank Wolf, or (former) Governor Mark Warner, or even (former) Leesburg Mayor Jim Clem (one of the most memorable and colorful personalities in our local kaleidoscope – in the best of senses), and the station would get a call complaining about lack of news coverage on a power outage affecting perhaps one customer, or a traffic jam on Route Seven (traffic in Northern Virginia – you gotta be kiddin’!); but I learned – even more – that things that strike close to home grab people the most.
Now, in our little tour down Wage Radio Memory Lane I’ve neglected everyone whose names we omitted; I have not yet written that encyclopedia-sized volume. It’s not just an empty brick building. It is filled with Spirits: sometimes my own.